There have always been controlling and self-promoting Christian leaders, who want to be top dog, even in the first century. But how are Christ followers supposed to deal with them? John (the disciple Jesus loved) gives us an example in the small New Testament book of 2 John.
“I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. Therefore, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. Beloved, don’t imitate that which is evil, but that which is good.” –John the Beloved in 2 John verses 9 – 11 in World English Bible.
John wrote a letter to an assembly. (The World English Bible translates the Greek word ekklesia as assembly, which is a much more accurate translation than the traditional translation that uses the word church.) However, one of the leaders in that assembly, Diotrephes, was controlling and self-promoting. Diotrephes wanted to be the top leader and to out rank all the others, so he rejected what John wrote (which would be like a modern day pastor rejecting Bible verses that he felt might undermine his position and his authority).
Diotrephes showed his controlling nature by speaking against John and also rejecting the people John sent to the assembly. Diotrephes even went so far as to personally kick out anybody who received the people John sent. As you can see above, John, in his letter, goes on to tell the people in the assembly not to imitate that which is evil, which I believe referred to the controlling, self-promoting attitude and behavior of Diotrephes that put himself above everybody else in the congregation.
So why do contemporary churches put one person at the top of their leadership structure, when the book of 1 John clearly criticizes a leader who “loves to be first among them”? Jesus agrees with John. He taught that the greatest should be the least and the first should be last. In other words, the most effective Christian leadership doesn’t lead from a position of supreme authority but from extreme humility.
So how should 21st century Christ-followers deal with a controlling leader who wants to be the top leader in a gathering of Christ-followers? John put it this way: “I will call attention to his deed which he does.” John didn’t cover up for the leader, Diotrephes. He didn’t justify the leader’s controlling actions and attitude. Instead, John spoke the truth in love, even though bringing the leader’s control out in the open, provoked Diotrephes to attack John and his friends.
I long for the day when no man (or woman) is first in a meeting of the body of Christ, but when everybody comes together and lets Jesus, Himself, be the Head of His body. Is that possible! Absolutely! Are we willing to let Jesus be in the One in control of a Christian assembly? That’s questionable.